- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2011

Heavy and relentless rain from remnants of Tropical Storm Lee on Thursday claimed at least three lives in the Washington area, closed the Capital Beltway and forced thousands of evacuations in Virginia and elsewhere along the East Coast as rivers and streams already swollen by Hurricane Irene spilled over their banks.

“Any flooding we currently have going on will be worsened by this,” National Weather Service meteorologist Carrie Suffern said.

The storm accounted for at least three deaths in Maryland and Virginia, officials said.

Fairfax County fire officials said a child died after being swept away in the Piney Branch Creek in Vienna. Officials also said another person died in a similar incident, but it was not immediately known in what body of water.

Anne Arundel County police said a 49-year-old Pasadena, Md., man drowned in high water behind his home.

The weather service issued flash-flood warnings across the region Thursday night that included the District and Maryland’s Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties.

A warning issued for Alexandria told residents “not to underestimate the power of floodwater.” Fairfax County urged residents who live in sections of the Huntington area, near Cameron Run, to immediately evacuate their homes.

The rest of the region was essentially under a flash-flood watch until 2 a.m. Friday. Officials closed stretches of the Capital Beltway in Virginia, over Cameron Run and at the Mixing Bowl, because of high water.

Prince George’s officials closed the town of Upper Marlboro after high water swamped roads and the county administration building was flooded with several feet of water from a nearby pond. The building and the county courthouse, also in Upper Marlboro, will be closed Friday.

The rain-soaked storm moved from the Gulf Coast into the area Monday and is expected to dump at least 10 inches of rain on the entire Mid-Atlantic region, according to the weather service. More rain is forecast throughout the region into next week.

Lee has been blamed for the deaths of at least nine people.

Potential flooding along the Susquehanna River has forced the evacuation of nearly 100,000 residents from Maryland to New York.

Most of the evacuations were ordered in and around Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where the levee system is just high enough to hold back the river if it crests at the predicted level. Even if the levees hold, 800 to 900 unprotected homes were in danger. If they fail, thousands of buildings could be lost.

Upriver in Binghamton, N.Y., a city of about 45,000, the Susquehanna coursed into the streets and climbed halfway up lampposts at a downtown plaza. Mayor Matt Ryan said it was the city’s worst flooding since the flood walls were built in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Road closures effectively sealed off Binghamton to outside traffic as emergency responders scrambled to evacuate holdouts who didn’t heed warnings to leave. Buses and then boats were used to evacuate residents, and National Guard helicopters were on standby.

“It’s going to get worse,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, warning people to leave when they get the order.

The New York Thruway Authority last night was preparing to close a 105-mile stretch of Interstate 90 because of potential flooding on the nearby Mohawk River.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett warned of “a public health emergency because sewage-treatment plants are underwater and no longer working.”

“Floodwater is toxic and polluted,” he said. “If you don’t have to be in it, keep out.”

Flooding of major rivers remains a concern in the region. But in Little Falls — along the Potomac River several miles above Key Bridge — the water level was not expected to exceed 7.4 feet on Friday, which is below flood stage, Ms. Suffern said.

Still, flash flooding is the larger concern in this region, she said.

“It can happen so suddenly,” Ms. Suffern said. “That’s when you hear about cars being swept away.”

Such flooding occurs in the D.C. area because its roads are often made of cement and other impervious surfaces, which results in pooling water that rapidly spills downhill when it has nowhere to go.

“Upper Marlboro seems to be the worst,” said Cpl. Clinton Copeland, spokesman for the Prince George’s County Police Department.

Because there were so many road closures around Upper Marlboro, the County Fair was closed Thursday, said Kay Marcos, who was handling phones at the fair’s office.

“It’s just wet everywhere,” she said. “There are puddles everywhere.”

Baltimore, Carroll, Montgomery and Howard counties received the most rain in the region.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport collected 5 inches of rain through Wednesday, and the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport received nearly 7 inches, officials said.

Nearly 10 inches has already fallen on Parkville, Md., north of Baltimore, in the past three days, bringing the two-week total for that area since Hurricane Irene to roughly 1 foot.

Significantly fewer households experienced power outages this week, compared with when Irene hit on Aug. 28. But by Thursday afternoon, about 1,100 Pepco customers were without power.

The heavy rain also affected commuter traffic, including Wednesday afternoon’s rush hours, which was brought to a standstill when the eastbound lanes of Washington’s Southeast-Southwest Freeway were shut down for standing water.

The inbound lanes of the 14th Street Bridge, a main artery into the District, were bottlenecked as drivers were diverted from the freeway onto crowded side streets and away from standing water in the bridge’s HOV lanes.

Irene killed more than 40 people along the Mid-Atlantic region. In Washington, the storm toppled as many as 200 trees and knocked out power to a half-million area residents.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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